Star Fox Command brings the series back to its roots in stunning 3D on Nintendo's dual-screen. It is fitting too, as Star Fox was such a break from the normal 2D fair everyone was used to when it shipped in 1993 on the Super NES.
There is no denying that Star Fox and Star Fox 64 are the most loved games of the series. Developer Q-Games did right by drawing from these games, as well as adding unique mechanics only possible with the DS and its stylus.
Star Fox Command starts off where Assault left off, albeit with no on-foot missions (thankfully). The Star Fox team is disbanded, as the threat of Dr. Andross is no more.
But this would not be a video game without something sinister, this time in the form of fish-like "Anglar" aliens. This of course means the Star Fox team must be assembled once again to fight … or not.
An odd choice, and a blatant attempt to lengthen the story mode many times over, (nine, to be exact) a number of dialog choices will be locked during your first play through of the game.
That is right, this game has nine different endings. During your first go, which should only take a few hours, you won't be meeting up with all of your team members.
This also means that you won't be fighting all the enemies, or revealing the entire story in one continuous fashion. The anticlimactic "ending" has a slim sugar coating — the story gets better each time you play it.
I have mixed feelings about this presentation, because on the one hand I would have rather just had one cohesive story with multiple arcs in it.
On the other, however, the game play has that fun nostalgic feel to it, and it works quite well in this portable format.
Dialog scenes between characters are sans voice acting, similar to the original. Everyone talks in gibberish. There is an option to record your voice, using the built-in mic.
You are asked questions such as "What is your favorite color?" and " How old are you." These recordings are then inserted into the game as your player character speaks. It is sort of hard to understand, but it does allow for a bit of personalization.
You don't just jump from dialog scene to combat; the single-player game is not just fought from the cockpit, but from the command deck as well.
Each mission is preceded by a "you sunk my battleship" game. You (and your allies) have a finite number of moves to dispel or engage enemy targets before they sink your battleship, err, flagship — the Great Fox.
If you run out of turns, or the Great Fix gets hit, it's game over. There is also a time limit, but you should not max this out.
This added turn-based strategy adds a lot to the difficulty the game, as the action combat can be a bit on the easy side. Of course the combat is all dependent on how you play the turn-based strategy sequences. So plot your path on the overhead map, and you could avoid some enemies all together.
Using the stylus, you move Fox and your teammates around the map. Each have their own fuel gage, so you can only fly so far. Once captured, you can also launch missiles from the Great Fox, thus avoiding ship-to-ship battles.
Another use for the stylus is to remove fog from the map, which reveals enemies or items such as missiles or fuel cells.
Using the stylus to literally draw your flight pans works great. This strategic element also adds quite a bit of depth to your plans of see ship, destroy ship.
Once you engage the enemy, game play movies from the 2D map to the 3D action and heart of the Star Fox franchise.
The DS continues to amaze when it comes to what we expect out of 3D visuals on the handheld. Star Fox Command is no exception to this, with highly detailed environments and aircraft. Each team member's ship is different, and the modeling for them is wonderful.
This is easily one of the best looking 3D titles on the DS to date.
As in Metroid Prime Hunters, aiming is done entirely with the touch screen. This will feel natural for veterans of Hunters, but take some getting used to for others. You will get the hang of it, and find that the controls are very responsive.
Along with aiming, the touch screen has many other functions. For starters, it shows a mini-map of the area. There are buttons to perform a U-turn or a loop, as well as a button to drag-and-drop bombs with.
You can also speed up or slow down by double tapping the top, or bottom of the screen. Finally, performing the all-important barrel roll is done by scribbling back-and-forth on the touch screen.
This leaves every single face and shoulder button, and D-pad, to use for firing your ship's laser. Hold a button down long enough and you can fire a homing missile towards a locked-on target (some ships do not have lock-on features, but have other attributes).
As complicated as this might sound, it does not cramp your hands like the control setup in Metroid Prime Hunters. The stylus controls work quite well, making it easy to maneuver your ship in the thick of an intense firefight.
Beyond the previously stated episodic-like nine story endings, Command supports a few multiplayer modes.
The game supports up to six-player local wireless play with only one cartridge. There are also four-player Wi-Fi battles, easily the best part of the game.
Battle Royale allows for ranked play for four, and Free Battle gives options to play against friends or random people in matches with two to four players.
In both cases, you battle in different arenas with various power-ups. Gone are the strategy segments from the single-player game, which makes for fast paced action (when in the game).
Connecting to opponents is not the fasted process in the world, but it is better than other Nintendo Wi-Fi games.
The object of multiplayer is to collect the star "cores" left behind by destroyed opponents. You cannot simply kill someone, but must also pick up this star icon. This leaves room for some great strategy, as someone else can swoop in and take your kill.
At the end of the match, the person with the most stars wins. It is simple in design, and execution, but the end result is fulfilling.
With all this aerial mayhem, you might think the frame rate would take a dive. For the most part, the game keeps up at a steady clip. There is noticeable choppiness when you get a lot of ships, lasers, and buildings on screen at once, but its not enough to ruin your Top Gun fantasy.
With clean menus, a sharp presentation, and clear, colorful 3D visuals, Star Fox Command continues a strong legacy on the DS. But don't think you need to have played Star Fox to get enjoyment out of this portable jet fighter.
Star Fox Command is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB.